In a previous blog post, “Why You Hate Work” we discussed an article that appeared in the New York Times that investigated the way that the contemporary workplace too often produces a sense of depletion and employee “burnout.” In that article, the authors, Tony Schwartz and Christin Porath, argued that only when companies attempt to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of their employees by creating “truly human-centered organizations,” can these companies create the conditions for more engaged and fulfilled workers, and in so doing, become more productive and profitable organizations.
In that eponymous blogpost, we suggested that employee burnout is not an unknown feature of the non-profit world, and that, while program evaluation cannot itself prevent employee burnout, it can add to non-profit organizations’ capacities to create organizations in which staff and program participants have a greater sense of efficacy and purposefulness. (See also our blogpost “Program Evaluation and Organization Development” )
Of course, the problem of employee burnout and alienation is a perennial one. It occurs in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. In a more recent article, “Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” New York Times, January 26, 2019, Erin Griffith says that in recent years, there has emerged a “hustle culture,”—especially for millennials. This culture, Griffith argues, “…is obsessed with striving, (is) relentlessly positive, devoid of humor, and — once you notice it — impossible to escape.” She sites the artifacts of such a culture, which include at one WeWork location, in New York, neon signs that exhorts workers to “Hustle harder,” and murals that spread the gospel of T.G.I.M. (Thank God It’s Monday). Somewhat horrified by the Stakhanovite tenor of the WeWork environment, Griffith notes, “Even the cucumbers in WeWork’s water coolers have an agenda. ‘Don’t stop when you’re tired,’… ‘Stop when you are done.’” “In the new work culture,” Griffith observes, “enduring or even merely liking one’s job is not enough. Workers should love what they do, and then promote that love on social media, thus fusing their identities to that of their employers.”
Griffith is not concerned with employee burnout. Instead, she is horrified by the degree to which many younger employees have internalized the obsessively productivist, “workaholic” norms of their employers and, more broadly, of contemporary corporations. These norms include the apotheosis of excessive work hours and the belief that devotion to anything other than work is somehow a shameful betrayal of the work ethic. She quotes the founder of online platform, Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson, who observes, “The vast majority of people beating the drums of hustle-mania are not the people doing the actual work. They’re the managers, financiers and owners.”
Griffith writes, “…as tech culture infiltrates every corner of the business world, its hymns to the virtues of relentless work remind me of nothing so much as Soviet-era propaganda, which promoted impossible-seeming feats of worker productivity to motivate the labor force. One obvious difference, of course, is that those Stakhanovite posters had an anti-capitalist bent, criticizing the fat cats profiting from free enterprise. Today’s messages glorify personal profit, even if bosses and investors — not workers — are the ones capturing most of the gains. Wage growth has been essentially stagnant for years.”
“Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” Erin Griffith, New York Times, January 26, 2019
“The Fleecing of Millennials” David Leonhardt, New York Times, January 27, 2019